all words: Drew Litowitz, all photos: Ryan Kelly
When Deerhunter shows achieve transcendental perfection, as we all witnessed Saturday night at a tightly packed 9:30 club, life is momentarily affirmed. Last the District saw of Deerhunter, it was a rusty, incautious performance at Sixth and I synagogue. The first of the band’s shows in support of this year’s deliberately slapdash Monomania showcased a new and unrefined Deerhunter (longtime bassist Josh Fauver recently departed and was replaced by Josh McKay, and Frankie Broyles was brought on for additional guitar support). Technically speaking, that show was the band’s first ever. Saturday night was a whole different beast.
The evening began with Bradford Cox in ultimate “sweetheart” mode (an outfit he decides to wear seemingly arbitrarily, when and if he’s not acting like a total nut job). He slinked out onto the stage, where he earnestly and awkwardly thanked everybody for coming, pointed to the back corner to announce to an oblivious crowd that Animal Collective’s Geologist had been DJing since doors had opened, and that his favorite band, Crystal Stilts, would soon grace the stage. It set the tone of the evening as a special one, turning the 9:30 club into some sort of communal rock safehaven. We were all friends here.
Crystal Stilts emerged with slow-rolling kraut rhythms, psychedelic, post-punk guitar-organ pairings, and distanced Jim Morrison-style vocals. They had the whole dull-pain, 80’s brood down pat. With guitar elements reminiscent of the band they were opening for, their propulsive dread was a perfectly adept entrée into Deerhunter‘s phenomenal set. The band’s syncopated rhythms, scattered guitar strums, and zoned-out vocal melodies recalled the noised up anxiety that bands like Suicide, Joy Division, and the Jesus and Mary Chain mastered decades ago. It wasn’t hard to see why Cox would take a liking to them.
Then came Bradford and gang. From the first notes of “Hazel Street,” it was easy to see things were in alignment. Cox wailed “I was sixteen” incessantly over Moses Archuleta’s staggering drum fills and Lockett Pundts’ gorgeous tube-amp tilting. One thing that was clear from the beginning was just how much attention Deerhunter pays to the sheer quality of guitar tone. With the dials twisted high, the room filled with guitar notes so warm and pure that, even in their blaring rage, it was beautiful to hear them tangle together. It was loud as all hell.
The raw, anthemic guitar-rock reigned on with a raucous “Don’t Cry”, before growing nice and laconic for Pundt-penned “Desire Lines” and “The Missing.” Cox was in rare form, cultivating a brooding, delirious energy for the set’s entirety. Little was said in between songs, and Cox managed to scream and coo in equal measure which is always a plus. It was easy to get gloriously lost in the sounds, which is when you know you’ve got yourself to the right Deerhunter set. We were transported by the all-consuming noise. It reminded us that rock shows don’t always need to be so polite.
Though Monomania cuts sounded full-bodied and masterful, the evening’s highlights came in the form of selections from Microcastle and Halcyon Digest. The undisputed champion was the mesmerizing “Nothing Ever Happened.” For what felt like fifteen minutes, the band tapped into the song’s glacially amorphous groove–an incessant drum pattern and a set of propulsive, curdling guitar knots. Guitar-lines evolved hypnotically for what felt like forever, obsessed with themselves, until eventually they broke open to reveal a bright light at the song’s euphoric climax. Everybody lost their shit.
The band played a few more songs, but they really didn’t have to. It could have all ended there. We were all spent.
An explosive “Monomania” ended in a haze of overblown vocals and guitars as the band exited to the looped feedback noise. It sounded like the monitors were yelling the word “monomania” (even if the vocals were long gone by that point) for a good 5 minutes. Finally, the band came out and played a gloriously stark “Earthquake” and a fun-loving “Operation” (which the band claimed to have never played before, and required a few false starts). The song’s strange time-shifts and Television-esque entanglements were a perfect cap to the evening.
Cox thanked us, waved goodbye, and we were forced to exit Deerhunter‘s holy celestial realm and face reality, once again. It had to end at some point.